Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Hospital Developers Ask for Height Limit to be Lifted

Photos by Evan Brandt
Planner Brian Seidel shows explains the line of sight for residents of Summer Hill
if part of the proposed hospital is 65 feet high.
A hearing involving a proposed hospital at the corner of Route 100 and Grosser Road drew a crowd and questions Tuesday.

The hearing was unusual in that it was held outside in order to accommodate the crowd. The hearing, scheduled for last month, was postponed until Tuesday due to extreme heat, but Tuesday was cooperative with clear skies and temperatures in the low 80 and high 70s.

The crowd of roughly 30 listen during Tuesday's
hearing as the sun sets and traffic rolls down Route 73.
Less cooperative was the traffic noise that occasionally caused testimony in front of the Gilbertsville firehouse to pause when the occasional motorcycle of trash truck rumbled by.

At issue, said attorney Frank Bartle, is a simple matter of height. The Route 100 overlay district that guides development of the site behind the popular Wawa there allows for a hospital to be built, but the height limit is 45 feet.

The developers want to build an 85-bed hospital on four floors, part of which would be 65 feet high under the current plan.

They have asked the township supervisors to change the zoning ordinance to increase the maximum height to 65 feet.

"We have an absolute legal entitlement to the hospital use. Issues of use are not pertinent tonight," said Bartle. "All that's pertinent is the question of height."

If the supervisors refuse, said Bartle, the hospital will still be built with the same square footage, it will just have a larger footprint.

The site for the hospital, in the lower left of this map,
is part of a larger comprehensive plan for the
Route 100 corridor.
Recognizing that residents of the neighboring Summer Hill subdivision are not too keen on the project, Bartle said allowing the taller building will allow the project to be moved closer to Route 100 and further from the residences.

"It gets better for the residents at 65 feet," he said.

Regardless of whether the height restriction is changed, said Bartle, the zoning, updated in 2012, specifically allows the project and it will be built one way or the other.

Both Bartle and Township solicitor Bob Brant stressed that there has been no formal plan submitted to the township.

A site plan, traffic study, stormwater calculations and other associated issues will all be dealt with as part of the land development process, which has not yet begun.

Planner Brian Seidel said the project has already been recommended by the Montgomery County Planing Commission, the Pottstown Metropolitan Area Regional Planning Commission, of which Douglass (Mont.) is a member, as well as the township's own planning agency.

The property along Route 100 is identified as a "primary growth area" in the comprehensive plans of all three of those municipal agencies, he said. "The overlay district itself is encouraging intensive development."

Seidel said height restrictions on one side of the site are 50 feet, and 65 feet on the other side.

Nathaniel Carter talks about the proposed hospital.
Speaking for the residents of Summer Hill was Nathaniel Carter who said the residents want the project "scaled back and designed to blend in with the surrounding community."

"This is not a 'not-in-our-back-yard' message, this is an appropriate-in-our-back-yard message," said Carter. 

He argued the hospital use is inappropriate at the site, which he said is at "the most dangerous intersection in town. And now we're talking about putting the most impactful, heaviest use in Douglass township at that intersection."

A hospital will lower the property values of the homes in Summer Hill, said Carter.

He said the township's ordinances are inadequate to guide the project. "We're not saying stop. We're saying pause. Let's get our township in order to protect the residents."

A rough sketch of the proposed hospital complex.
As the evening wound down, a particular piece of data -- made more relevant by the fact that the hearing had to be paused while the fire company answered a call -- was presented.

When asked by Supervisors Chairman Josh Stouch if the fire company has equipment to fight a fire at a 65-foot building, Fire Chief Andrew Duncan said no.

"We would need a ladder truck," said Duncan. "The tallest ladder was have is 35 feet. We rely on Boyertown and New Hanover fire companies, which each had ladder trucks that can reach 100 feet."

The cost to obtain a ladder truck for Gilbertsville is between $1 million and $1.3 million, said Duncan.

The supervisors made no decision on the developers' request to change the height restriction in the ordinance, and said they will consider a decision at their next meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 21.

Click here to see the Tweets from last night's meeting.

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